Progress achieved at Las Bambas
15 April 2019
Efforts by the Catholic Church to bring the different sides together (which was about to happen as we went to press last week) led to ten hours of negotiations in Lima. Gregorio Rojas, leader of the Fuerabambas community, Prime Minister Salvador del Solar and leading figures from MMG all took part.
It brought a change of approach. Agreement was reached on suspension of both the road block and the state of emergency, and further dialogue was agreed on without the community’s previous precondition as to the release of its two lawyers. Talks in Challhuahuacho were planned for the following Thursday, 11 April, there was a partial opening of the road, and the state of emergency was lifted.
On 10 April, the Cotabambas community, in a lengthy meeting, produced its 'agenda' for the Thursday talks. The agenda, effectively their set of requirements, contained nine points.
The first required the ending of charges levelled against leaders and proper resolution of issues around victims of violence.
Numbers two to four and seven covered the serious underlying issues of the way the project has been developed, including the need for provision of proper environmental security, revision of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and the fulfilling of regional and local development plans.
Number six raised the need for the revision of Anexo K (part of the original agreement at the point when the concession passed to Xstrata in 2004). The original agreement laid out the social conditions under which the project was to go ahead. It set up a 'consejo de administración' to administer the funds that the company agreed to dedicate to community development. Criticisms included the way decisions were taken, the lack of participation by the communities affected, its lack of transparency, and the slow rate of progress.
Number eight concerns the company, in particular the need for the general manager to be present in the negotiations and the issue of the removal of company officials deemed corrupt.
The final point, number nine, required that the government desist from declaring states of emergency in Cotabambas in future and agrees to annul of the security agreements between the police and MMG at Las Bambas.
In parallel, this last issue (agreement with the police) was the subject of a legal challenge on the same day, when the Frente de Defensa of Cotabambas presented a writ of constitutional protection (an amparo) before a judge, supported by the Instituto de Defensa Legal, Earthrights International, Aprodeh, the Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos and Cooperaccion. The amparo challenged the agreement between the National Police and MMG.
The 11 April meeting duly took place in Challhuahuacho with del Solar and the company present, as well as representatives from 38 communities, the appropriate mayors and the regional governor. Other ministers also attended. The two facilitators were the Ombudsman and the president of the Bishops Conference.
It appears the community's agenda was taken seriously, with the decision to create nine 'mesas técnicas' to consider each point separately, with a first meeting to be held on Tuesday 16 April to set up the structure.
The prime minister's language in statements afterwards was interesting and hopefully significant: he stressed that the issues would take time to work out, and it was important that there should be executive responsibility for following through on agreements. To this end, he appointed the Minister of Development and Social Inclusion, Paula Bustamante, who had taken full part in the meeting, as the person responsible for follow-up.
What was not fully resolved was the issue of the section of the road which passes through the Fuerabambas community itself, still blocked at that point. Rojas went on to hold a meeting with his community the following day, with Bustamante present. Here the community agreed to lift the blockade.
So far so good: the sense that dialogue is the only route through, and that it can be a route emerged from last week's events, as did a welcome recognition that the process cannot be resolved in a short time and that follow-up is crucial. But the issues are deep and past mismanagement weighs heavily.
Commenting on last week’s events, Mgr Miguel Cabrejos, president of the Bishops Conference, emphasised the way in which the initial dialogue had passed off peacefully. He asserted the positive role that the Church could play, citing his own personal involvement in the disputes at Conga, Quillabamba and Espinar. In an interview with La República, he commented “I have seen a great disposition, from the government, the company, the community members. All have had to give something. They need to learn to change their outlook. The company needs to adopt another way of exploiting minerals; the government also has to change, to concern itself with being a state, a father of the nation, it has to protect the interests of the communities, for the fulfilment of agreements with major corporations whether in mining, oil or gas; and the community members also have to change, at least they have taken a step in this direction in receiving us without violence.” His interview in its entirety is worth reading.